If done correctly, lifting weights is an extremely safe mode of fitness. But walk through any average gym and you’ll see person after person using bad technique and risking injury. Maybe they’re using the wrong setup, using the wrong muscles, or straining their joints. What’s even worse is that everyone keeps making the same mistakes over and over again. It’s time to put an end to bad form at the gym, or wherever you train.
Here are the 10 of the most common technique mistakes people make when lifting weights and working out in general, and exactly how to fix them. Once you do, you’ll start building more muscle and strength in no time.
If you’re not squatting to parallel or below, you’re limiting the strength and size you could potentially build in your legs and your range-of-motion. You also hurt your knees because the force of the barbell won’t shift onto your hips until you reach parallel.
Ignore the myth that parallel squats are bad for your knees—it’s just not true. Instead, brace your core as you squat and make sure your thighs are parallel to the ground (or lower) at the bottom.
Don’t flare your elbows when you bench. When you point them directly out to the sides, you put too much stress on your shoulder joints and cause injuries. It also makes the exercise harder because the bar has to travel more distance when you stick out your elbows.
As you drive the barbell up, keep your elbows close to your ribcage. This reduces the pressure on your shoulders and puts the load on your chest and triceps.
Sometimes when you see guys bench press, they’ll get stuck and start flailing their legs. Never do this—it wastes power and means you weren’t tight enough when you started.
Before you bench press, drive your feet into the ground while keeping your butt on the bench at all times. You’ll tighten your lower-body and boost your stability and strength.
Too often, guys bend backward as they push overhead. Usually, it’s because they want to tilt their chest up as to mimic an incline bench press or they lack shoulder mobility.
This, however, puts enormous and dangerous stress on the joints in your lumbar spine and can cause a serious injury. Squeeze your glutes and core as hard as you can as you push overhead—this will stabilize your lower back and help you push more weight overhead, safely.
Many guys jog on their heels, which rattles your ankles, knees and hips. Over time, this can lead to shin splints, ankle injuries, and knee pain, especially because it’s so repetitive. It’s also inefficient—you’ll get tired before you can use all your endurance.
Instead, land on the balls of your feet (like when you skip rope) and run as quietly as you can. You’ll train your body to absorb the shock from the ground and you’ll prevent overuse injuries.
During a bad barbell or dumbbell row, your elbow will travel too far behind your ribcage, which means you missed out on the full benefits to strengthen your back and improve your shoulder health. When you row, imagine your shoulder blade gliding inward, over your ribcage. At the top of the row, you want to feel that you can pinch a pencil between your shoulder blades.
Oftentimes, guys bend their neck backwards while exercising. For example, they’ll look up at the bottom of a squat or they’ll look straight ahead when they deadlift or do a pushup.
This strains your cervical spine. Instead, “pack” your neck: point your chin down slightly and make a double-chin. Now, perform your exercise without changing your neck position
A good kettlebell swing is an explosive exercise that targets the triple extension at your hips, knees, and ankles. It also isolates the hips, fires your core and enables you to keep your shoulders safe. It’s not meant to be a high pull.
Avoid using your arms to pull the kettlebell and never go overhead with this heavy, ballistic movement. It puts a lot of unnecessary strain on your shoulders.
As you pull up, don’t let your shoulders round forward—your chest sinks in and your head and chin shoot forward (also called “squirrel pullups”). Not only are you missing the benefits of the pullup—a powerful back, stable shoulders and strong lower traps—but you’re also aggravating bad posture.
Focus on pulling your chest up and pulling your shoulder blades down and in as you pull up. You’ll activate the muscles in your rhomboids and lower traps, which help build good posture and keep your shoulders safe.
Online, it seems like everyone has a 40-inch vertical. But then you see their YouTube video and it looks atrocious—they’ll leap onto an extremely tall box by landing in a deep squat, which shrinks the distance.
You need to land in the same position from where you originally started. Otherwise, you’re not testing how high you can actually jump; you’re testing how quickly you can tuck your legs. Ditch your ego and use a box with an appropriate height.
BY ANTHONY J. YEUNG, CSCS